Community Support During Childhood Inspires Student to Give Back

NEW ORLEANS– Community programs that kept his family afloat inspired Anthony Harris to give back. Harris, an only child, was born Chicago’s West Loop and raised in a single-parent home.

His mother, Alicia Harris, struggled to support him, working tirelessly to pay his $8,000 tuition to a private high school. “She really struggled to send me to Holy Trinity, and I’m grateful she worked so hard,” said Harris, a transfer student from Columbia College in Chicago who is now a junior at Howard University.

Harris said that his experiences compelled him to become part of “Unfinished Business,” the theme for this year’s Alternative Spring Break, a service mission trip sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel. More than 500 student volunteers were commissioned to serve in New Orleans during their week-long spring recess. This was Howard University’s third tour of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

The 20-year-old’s volunteer efforts involved working with elementary and middle school children at St. Augustine High School, which serves seventh through 12th grades, and St. Mary’s Academy, which has pre-kindergarten to 12th grade students.

Both schools were affected by the storm, but St. Mary’s proved to be the hardest hit of the two. After three years, the students of St. Mary’s are attending classes in trailers, while their new school is being rebuilt.

Harris reflects on the compassion of the young children and the independent attitude of the older students. “I was able to cultivate a strong relationship with the younger kids; they didn’t want us to leave.”

Harris and a team of Howard tutors spent the week playing, painting and talking about dinosaurs. “This was one of the first times any of the students experienced someone younger but older than them coming to work with them,” he said. “Most of the students were used to their teachers and faculty.”

In addition to working with the younger students, Harris was able to be part of a question-and-answer session with St. Augustine High School students. “Most of them asked about Howard and basic college entry questions: How hard is it? How to apply? But I was surprised to hear that most of them expressed interest in staying in New Orleans for college.” “Even though the hurricane happened a few years ago, I was still able to make an impact on young people in New Orleans.”

Harris feels this trip is especially important, because his life goal is to open and operate a non-profit organization that focuses on social justice and community outreach. “A lot of people helped my mother so I want to give back to the community.”

This was Harris’s first time going to New Orleans and his first mission trip. Harris hopes he was able to “help someone else and make a difference in their life.”

Sasha Quintana is a sophomore majoring in public relations from Portland, Ore.